Frequently Asked Questions about Movement in Young Babies

Is a low bed safe for a small baby?

I have been considering this idea of getting a low bed for the baby that I am expecting but I am a bit worried that it may not be safe and that my child will fall off and hurt herself.

This is a fear expressed by many parents who have only thought of putting their baby in a cot. However, your baby will not fall off the low bed if he has had a low bed right from the start. Babies have the ability to slither from birth. Slithering is a very slow movement and once a baby feels that part of his body is not supported by the bed he will slither back towards the centre of the bed. If your child has not been on a low bed from the start, it is still worth making the change. However be prepared for the fact that your child may roll off a couple of times before he gets used to it. But the bed is not very high so he will not hurt himself and it will not take him long to become aware of the boundaries of the bed so that he does not fall off it at all.

I am afraid my child will not stay in a low bed.

I am little sceptical about this idea of putting my child on a low bed. Surely a cot with bars is designed to keep the child in one safe place while the adults are sleeping and not able to watch him all the time. How can I be sure he will not get up and walk around the house or fall down the stairs?

There are two things we need to make sure we do, the first is to make sure our child is able to fall asleep independently, and secondly that he associates sleep with his bed. If he is allowed to fall asleep anywhere, such as in his pram, then it will take longer for him to realise that his bed is the place for him to sleep. Falling asleep independently is a skill and it takes practice to be able to perfect this skill. The more often your child is allowed to fall asleep anywhere but his bed or with anything other than quiet and relaxation then the less practice he gets at this skill. We need to be consistent and follow the needs of the child. When he shows signs of tiredness, put him on his low bed, which he will associate with relaxation and sleep. If you have placed toys in his room then he will not need to look around the house for something to do when he wakes up and anyway, if you keep the door shut he won't be able to do so anyway.

Are midwives wrong to tell you to swaddle a baby?

If movement is so vitally important for children, why do some paediatricians and midwives promote swaddling babies?

We are told that wrapping a baby with his arms and legs confined will calm him and help him sleep thus allowing us to sleep and this is true. New mothers do need as much sleep and rest as possible in the time following birth. However, babies need to move their limbs freely when they sleep because this helps them to develop healthier sleep patterns. If they are disturbed and wakened by their startle reflex, they will wiggle, squirm, and settle into a new position to go back to sleep. This means they are more likely to develop the ability to get back to sleep when they wake momentarily in the night.

I find it difficult to entertain my baby

I have given my baby all sorts of different things to play with but he does not seem interested and when he touches them he doesn't seem to be able to grasp them so they just get pushed away and he gets frustrated. What kind of objects should I be offering him?

If he is getting frustrated it probably means that the objects are too large or too hard for his hands to grasp and that they are rolling away too easily. Alternatively it may be that you are not offering him things that interest him. Watch carefully to see what does interest him and build on that. Common household objects without sharp or rough edges, and large enough not to be swallowed can be rotated for keeping his interest keen. When he grasps the objects he will feel its shape, weight and texture so you should make sure that you keep offering things where these aspects differ. As long as he is learning something from an object he will continue to play with it. When he is ready for new stimulation he will lose interest in the old toys. For example, if he had enjoyed the sound of a wooden rattle, you could fill a container with lentils or with sand and see if the new sound interests him. If your baby enjoyed the colours and textures of soft fabrics you could offer a variety of bean bags made of velvet, silk, linen, or cotton. Choose lightweight rattles proportional to the size of his hands so he can grasp and drop them without getting hurt.

Is an electronic swing harmful?

I have an electronic swing, which I can just switch on and it rocks my baby. My baby loves it and so do I because it means I can get on with other things while she is happy swinging. Is it harmful to her development?

Swings are not harmful to development, but the natural environment provides opportunities for the same stimulation. Repetitive motion, rocking, jiggling, and bouncing are comforting and soothing. The human vestibular system, which houses the inner ear, senses gravity and motion and allows her to adjust her body's position to keep her balance. Babies cry less when their vestibular system is stimulated through repetitive motions like rocking, swinging, bouncing, spinning or changing the body's position. That's why rocking chairs are often the first gift given to an expectant mother and why parents become adept at handling their babies because parents learn that position changes are often soothing. Sitting on an office chair and spinning while holding your baby stimulates the vestibular system. So does sitting on a swing at a playground while holding your baby. Natural swings are very different from mechanised swings, which can confine and daze your baby.